Women in Sports

We talk a lot about allowing children to see themselves in the books that they read. That’s why Multicultural Children’s Book Day was created. There is one area that I don’t see a ton of, but that we slowly see building steam – books that portray women participating in athletics.

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I thought about this concept after checking out a new nonfiction picture book from our local library – Long-Armed Ludy and the First Women’s Olympics. This is an interesting story about Lucile “Ludy” Godbold. She never quite fit in – by the time she went to college in 1917 she was already 6 feet tall and rail thin, but she was always supporting and encouraging those around her. When her track and field coach suggested she try shot put, she found her true calling. It took great amounts of work and determination, but she kept at it. After winning an important track meet she was given a slot on the first Women’s Olympic team (not at the Olympics we know, since women still were not allowed to compete). What stands out is that, just as she had backed all of her teammates, when she couldn’t afford to go to France for the games, the entire school backed her. On August 20, 1922, she became the first female to win the shot put at the Women’s Olympics. This is a story of girl power. It is a story of supporting those around you and believing in yourself. It was a very different time, made evident by the clothing the women wore, but Ludy Godbold loved being an athlete and didn’t let anything stand in her way. (Although I must admit that shot put just makes me think of The Hammer from Matilda)Ludy+110116-6

Another book for those who love track is The Girl Who Ran, by Kristina Yee and Frances Poletti. This book tells of Bobbi Gibb, the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon. In 1966 women were not allowed to run in the Boston Marathon. They were not allowed to run in races over 1.5 miles.  She was told that she couldn’t run, but she persisted and ran anyway. Not to prove anything to anyone, but because she loved it and was determined. An important story to show that not only should we go after our dreams, but to also remind young girls today that doors that are open to them are so because of women in history.The Girl Who Ran_6263_5_72dpi_RGB - 2

For the basketball lovers out there, they should check out Basketball Belles by Sue Macy. This book takes us back to 1896 when basketball itself was still quite new and women playing basketball was quite unusual. The story is told from the perspective of Agnes Morley. Right from the very beginning she lets the reader know that she is no “girly-girl.” Her mother sent her to Stanford hoping it would make her more lady like, but instead she is playing in the first basketball game between two college teams – Standford vs Berkeley. The book focuses on that first game and the enjoyment that all the girls had while playing. Best, when the game is over, Morley explains that “I think that a lady can be tough and strong as well as refined and polite. She can even play basketball.”

Baseball lovers can read Players in Pigtails, by Shana Corey, to get a story version of how the All American Girls Professional Baseball League came about during WWII. The story focuses on a little girl who doesn’t enjoy typical girl past-times of home ec, piano, or painting, but loves all things baseball. For parents who loved A League of Their Own, this book is a way to showcase how important the Women’s League was and how it is great for girls to go after their dream of playing baseball. Girls can also get a more historically telling of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League’s 1946 World Championship in Dirt on Their Skirts, by Doreen Rappaport. And finally, She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story, by Audrey Vernick, shows the power of a woman’s love of the game of baseball, even though she wasn’t herself a player. Effa Manley worked tirelessly for civil rights and was an important force behind the Negro League. Manley was a business manager and owner of the Newark Eagles baseball team. In 2006, she was the first woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Althea Gibson is an important name in the world of tennis. She was the first African American to cross the color line of international tennis. In Sue Stauffacher’s book, Nothing But Trouble, readers get a view of Gibson’s rise in tennis. As a child in Harlem, she was seen as a trouble maker, but someone saw her playing paddle ball and she was mentored as a tennis player. Her biggest obstacle, however, was her behavior, as tennis etiquette required her to be a good sport, control her anger, and both learn and follow the rules of the game. Two other very important female names in the world of tennis are Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. The book Martina & Chrissie, by Phil Bildner, is an amazing dual biography that looks at these completely different tennis pros – how they each approached the game and life. This book brings the added dimension of their rivalry existing during the Cold War. There is so much that young readers can get from this book.

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A final wonderful book, though it is not a picture book, is Women in Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win, by Rachel Ignotofsky. This awesome book highlights the achievements and stories of fifty notable women athletes from the 1800s to today, including trailblazers, Olympians, and record-breakers in more than forty sports.  Through their stories young athletes today can not only see the grit and determination these women had, but how they changed our world for the better.

nfpb18There are many others out there and some of the active people on Goodreads have curated a list that you can find here.

For more great nonfiction picture books, head over to KidLitFrenzy!


  1. Thanks for including my book, BASKETBALL BELLES. When I started writing nonfiction about women’s sports, there were only a handful of biographies of female athletes. It’s great to see so many authors bringing the accomplishments of so many women to light. We’re definitely heading in the right direction!

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